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Men, women and health insurance -- what's fair?

October 30, 2008 | 10:14 am

NewpreventiveWhen it comes to health coverage, fairness depends on whom you ask and, perhaps, which groups are singled out.

Insurers say charging women more because of their gender is perfectly fine, thank you very much. Consumer advocates suggest we might want to think about this issue a bit further, asking just where (whether) we eventually will draw the line.

Writes Robert Pear in today's New York Times:

"Striking new evidence has emerged of a widespread gap in the cost of health insurance, as women pay much more than men of the same age for individual insurance policies providing identical coverage, according to new data from insurance companies and online brokers."

The story goes on to explain that women use more healthcare services, but that even insurance executives were a bit taken aback at the size of the difference between men's and women's costs, which can amount to hundreds of dollars a year.

Here's what L.A. Times' columnist David Lazarus had to say back in June:

"Parsing rates according to gender is a relatively new phenomenon. If women are more expensive than men to insure, and middle-aged women are significantly more expensive than middle-aged men, what about, say, older women with red hair? After all, they have fairer skin and thus are more susceptible to skin cancer.

How about if, statistically speaking, blacks are more expensive to insure than whites? Or Christians more expensive to cover than kosher-observing Jews?

How far will insurers go in determining risks?"

More people may begin asking this question.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: All that preventive care is expensive, insurers say, and women are more likely to avail themselves of it.

Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

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Comments (1)

There really is nothing new or surprising in any of this. We have known for decades that medical costs incurred by women in most age groups are significantly higher than those for males. State insurance laws are deliberately designed to require that premium rates directly reflect the expected medical expenses of the applicant. In response to these facts, employee benefit legislation eliminated the gender factor (as well an all other actuarial rating factors) in designing the rates for group health insurance. Rates for women's group health insurance are the same as for males. This illustrates the fundamental differences between individual and group insurance.

Fortunately online enrollment firms like mine at allow a "mix and match" approach to allow the best of both options. Individuals may enroll in group insurance and, conversely, members of employee benefit plans can often use individual insurance if rates are lower.


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